Strongly objecting to an order of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) allowing the Popular Front of India (PFI) to facilitate the burial of Muslim victims of Covid-19, former chief minister and Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday sought to know the Uddhav Thackeray government’s stand on the decision.
Fadnavis also tweeted the BMC order entrusting the PFI with the task, which states, “Whenever there is a suspected Covid-19 death of a Muslim person all hospitals should inform the coordinators of the PFI. Task force team of the PFI will facilitate burial of Muslim dead bodies.”
“Does Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray agree with the decision…,” Fadnavis asked in his tweet. “If the CM is not in favour of promoting anti-national organisations, he should immediately make his stand clear and initiate strong action,” he added.
Around the same time Fadnavis put out the tweet, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) decided to “cancel their arrangements” of burial it had with the PFI. PFI volunteers were aiding the PMC in burying Covid-19 bodies since April.
A group of volunteers affiliated to the PFI has been working with civic bodies across the state to help with the burial of Covid-19 patients, especially as Muslim families are facing opposition from community graveyards to burials. Across Maharashtra, the group has helped bury 200 bodies, though none yet in Mumbai. The BMC confirmed that it has authorised hospitals to co-ordinate with the PFI volunteers for burials.
“The PFI is accused of anti-national and anti-social activities,” Fadnavis said in a video. “The demonstrations and violence over the citizenship Act saw the PFI playing a major role and using foreign funds.
The Enforcement Directorate
has established links between banks and money routes to the PFI. The NIA is investigating its activities,” Fadnavis said.
Stating that while other states have taken strong action against the organisation, Fadnavis said the Maharashtra government was legitimising the controversial organisation by allowing it to facilitate the burial of Muslim victims of the coronavirus.
Volunteers attached with the PFI said the BJP-ruled Pune Municipal Corporation was the earliest to rope them in for burials of Covid-19 patients. “In April they asked us to help with burials. We wanted to help, as there were a lot of problems around Muslims’ burials. In Pune alone we have buried 103 bodies,” said Saeed Choudhary, a PFI volunteer.
In Mumbai, Choudhary said he wrote a mail to BMC offering help. A meeting was held in early May with BMC executive health officer Dr Padmaja Keskar.
While Keskar did not respond to calls, Choudhary said BMC officials were short-staffed for the disposal of the dead, and needed assistance. “They agreed to provide personal protective equipment and masks, and we have 29 volunteers who are ready to provide dignified final rites to Covid-19 deceased,” he said.
In Mumbai, burials have been rendered more complex by a BMC rule that says no Covid-19 body, irrespective of religion, can be buried unless the graveyards are large and the community living around the burial ground does not raise objections. The BMC’s preferred mode of disposal of bodies of all faiths is cremation at electric crematoria. Muslim and Christian families have faced difficulties because of this.
The BMC letter’s on May 18, accessed by The Indian Express, asks hospitals to inform suspected or confirmed Covid-19 deaths to four coordinators of the PFI apart from informing local police and local medical officer. But so far, none of the hospitals have had to approach the designated co-oordinators for help with burials.
Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner, said, “They approached us to offer their help. Why should we doubt their intention? Relatives are not willing to touch the body. Bodies were piling up in the mortuary. We need help in disposing bodies.”
MLA Rais Shaikh said it is “unethical for politicians to politicise issues related to pandemic”. “These people are stepping forward and doing good work. There was no need to raise this issue,” Shaikh said.
BMC corporator Ashraf Azmi said, “It is a risk these PFI volunteers are taking in burying dead bodies. They must be appreciated.”
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